Your Penis Project was recently brought to my attention by Deborah Johnson, a colleague of mine in the medical profession who has corresponded with you in the past. I must say your statement that "men take their penises way too seriously" really resonates with me (female) and my female colleagues. We as a society have a long way to go with this dialogue—men and their uneasy relationship with their private parts, of particular concern to me being how it impacts their wellness, their longevity—so thank you so much for doing your part to issue the corrective!
Following is a personal essay I've posted on both sexual politic and healthcare web forums which you might find both informative and entertaining.
Truth to tell, the tragic, unnecessary death of my father at sixty was the driving motivator, the inspiration for me to pursue a career in the healthcare profession. My father had just retired shortly after my twentieth birthday and he and my mother were on the eve of embarking on a grand Carribean cruise when he suddenly began experiencing acute pain in his groin and went to see a doctor.
This is an all-too familiar story for us in the medical profession. Adult men avoiding physicals altogether out of dread of that intrusive, violating appendage and dying well before their time, often as early as their mid-fifties, missing out on the golden years with a spouse, not getting to see their grandchildren grow up. Prostate cancer is one of the slowest growing of cancers and is easily eradicated if caught early.
With my father's untimely death I had all the affirmation that I needed to pursue a career in the healthcare profession and I vowed then and there that I would do everything I could to help men overcome their difficulties in addressing their health concerns. I'd had my share of cold, condescending holier-than-thou male docs in my teens who'd wounded me in my youthful vulnerability in more ways than one so I could well appreciate the value of honest, open dialogue and a warm, genial feminine approach. My male patients deserved better than what I'd gotten and I'd vowed to continually hone, to refine my bedside manner to the nth degree in my quest to win them over.
I'm a physician's assistant with an occupational health organization and I typically perform four to six physical exams on men and women on an average day. I also regularly participate in health fair screenings for men over fifty. Whenever I ask a new male patient if he'd like a testicular and / or prostate exam, the typical look of mortification I get is probably best characterized, best summed up by the following account of a man describing his feelings regarding his first intimate exam with a female healthcare professional:
"I'd expected it to be a given, an inevitable during my occupational health exam that she'd ask me to drop my shorts at some point, so when she presented it as an option I confess that my liberalism faltered, that I choked, a myriad of mixed and alarming thoughts flooding my brain. Was she comfortable doing intimate exams on men? Did she hope I'd say "no" or did she really want and / or need the experience? How did the other men, my fellow male employees, respond to this situation? If I accepted, would I be one of the few or—perish the thought—the only guy to ever do so for her and thus stand out, alone in that regard to her? If I declined, would she think me immature, unprofessional or, worse yet, that I'd gotten excited, aroused over the thought of having my genitals examined by a strange woman?
Yes, many men are anxious about having their intimate areas examined, particularly by a female healthcare professional as they fear penis size comparison, or worse yet, that they might experience erection. Though in my experience most men do experience some visible distension, some turgidity during these exams, full erections are few and far between but when it does happen I make sure to allay, assuage any concerns or alarm which inevitably arise.
A young gentleman fresh out of college once went "full tilt" on me during his new employee health physical and stammered a bit,
utterly beside himself with embarrassment, finally managing to eke out, proffer an apology as his face and neck flushed a deep crimson. I just smiled, patted him reassuringly on the shoulder and said:
"Say, glad to see the hydraulics are in good order there. It's a perfectly natural thing, don't worry about it. Happens all the time."
His shoulders gave way, sagging a bit as he forcefully exhaled his relief, a smile sheepishly creasing his face, his burden lifted. After we'd shaken hands and he was about to leave my office at the conclusion of the post exam consultation he paused at the door, commenting shyly that he wished that I could be his regular doctor.
Made my day, yah know? (smile)…
Another gentleman, his penis shriveled to the diminutive state of a fuzzy-fringed acorn, admitted that he was a bit nervous about having to drop trou for a woman and apparently found it incumbent upon himself to clarify for me that under usual circumstances he "showed" appreciably more than he was showing now.
I smiled, wanting to reassure him that I as a healthcare professional, female though I may be, knew all-too-well that flaccid penis size or appearance is no indicator of erect size and a man's ability to satisfy his partner. Instead I commented the following as I reached for his taut, tightly-drawn scrotum:
"The genitals, the scrotum expand and retract freely throughout the day with changes in ambient temperature and mood. It's usually best to perform a testicular exam when the scrotum's relaxed, such as when you've just gotten out of the shower."
Invariably first time anxiety-ridden men such as those whose experiences I've just related are infinitely more relaxed during their second go' round with me as evidenced by their enhanced dialogue about their personal health concerns and how well or how poorly their regular doctors are meeting their needs.
Seems many of the men I see feel that the quality of care with their male doctors might be compromised, might suffer from the issue of homophobia—that male doctors don't want to spend too much time with their male patients out of concern that a prolonged examination or even consultation period might instill such anxiety in one or both parties.
One gentleman commented that his new male doctor didn't even bring up the subject of a testicular exam during a recent physical and was told that a PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test would suffice, that a digital rectal exam of the prostate wasn't necessary.
Evidently this man, this doctor was a homophobe.
I explained to my patient that though he was in his late forties and as such was in the lower risk category for testicular cancer, men should continue throughout their lives to examine, have their testicles examined by a healthcare professional. Not performing a digital rectal exam on a man who has a family history rife with prostate cancer is inexcusable. My patient thanked me for my thoroughness and commented that I was, in fact, the only healthcare professional who had ever properly performed a prostate exam on him. All of the doctors in his previous experience had merely "jabbed" him once—sometimes painfully hard—and commented "okay, we're done, you're good."
What information regarding prostate condition can you gather from a quick, token jab like that? Nada, nothing. Absolutely nothing. Why bother?
Apparently his doctors wanted to spare him—and undoubtedly themselves—potential embarrassment. Properly conducted, a digital rectal prostate exam involves palpating the lobes of the prostate in order to assess symmetry, bagginess and, yes, this palpating—indeed, massaging—can stimulate a man's G spot and induce arousal.
No way around it. It has to be done.
I favor the lithotomy position which we women assume for our pelvic exams and suggest this to my patients the second time around as it's far and away the best position for assessing prostate condition; unfortunately, most men decline this position as it makes them feel even more vulnerable what with their potential arousal in evidence (the alternative, more common practice is for the man to face away either bent over or supine on the exam bench).
For such men dissatisfied with the quality of care from their male doctors there's a lack of assurance that female healthcare professionals as a whole are prepared to step up and deliver.
One gentleman asked me if woman healthcare professionals are typically prepared to address male-specific health concerns; he confided in me that women doctors tend to be more nurturing and that he enjoyed that feeling of being cared for, looked after but was skeptical that he would find one to fill the bill. When he brought up the subject of a physical exam to his new female doctor she appeared momentarily startled, her eyes widening in apparent alarm; he opted not to see her again as her own discomfort only magnified his own.
The fact is many female healthcare professionals still complete their entire careers with little or no experience performing intimate exams on men which is largely owing to the issue of patient preference, a lack of comfort with men. Indeed, if one does a survey of the health history questionnaires that women doctors post on their web sites one will find that many of these forms still remain female-specific for this reason.
As a professional concerned with the quality of men's healthcare and as an advocate of women's opportunities in the healthcare profession I'll continue to fight the good fight. Yes, we have a long way to go with this dialogue so I salute individuals such as you yourself, Sue, for your willingness to step out on a limb a bit in order to instill change.
I love your gallery of male members and, as you rightly say, "they're kind of like snowflakes; every single one of them is different." Or as one of my female colleagues oft remarks, "penises are as individual as their owners." Yes, having examined hundreds of them during the course of my career I can attest that each is unique in his own little way :=)…
Do you have any new shows on the horizon? Have the majority of male visitors at your shows commented favorably, supportively after having taken in the whole of the experience?
Happy New Year!
P.S.: Deborah Johnson recently completed her medical school curriculum and is specializing in urology with a particular emphasis on male sexual disfunction. Her male colleagues and mentors have been wholly supportive. Female urologists who regularly treat men are still few and far between in North America but I'm pleased to say that women are slowly but surely making inroads into this once forbidden-to-them realm of medical science!
P.S. : On a related note I highly recommend the book, Dick: A User's Guide. It's a breezy, whimsical hands-on reference volume concerning all matters penile for both men and the women who love them. Incidentally, the authors, Dr. Michele Moore and Dr. Caroline De Costa are female so I can't help plugging for them at every opportunity!